Last year, Brooks & Dunn welcomed fellow country artists including Luke Combs and Kacey Musgraves to offer their spin on several Brooks & Dunn classics for their album Reboot—their collaboration with Combs has even scored a Grammy nomination at the upcoming awards show on Jan. 26.
Now, Ronnie Dunn has turned his soul-baring voice to two dozen of his favorite songs made famous by other artists.
With his third solo album, Re-Dunn (released Jan. 10), he delved into rock songs made famous by Van Morrison (“Brown Eyed Girl”), Tom Petty (“I Won’t Back Down”), Pure Prairie League (“Amie”), Eric Clapton (“Running On Faith,” “Wonderful Tonight”), 10cc (“I’m Not In Love”) and Ace (“How Long”).
The 24-track album also includes plenty of the country songs that proved indelible influences on Dunn, such as Johnny Rodriguez’s 1973 country chart-topper “Ridin’ My Thumb To Mexico,” the Rodney Crowell-penned “Ashes By Now,” and more.
“The fun part was not having to play by any rules, just playing whatever songs I love to do. It’s my personal playlist,” Dunn says.
The project’s genesis came when Big Machine Label Group execs challenged Dunn to record a few classic rock songs as part of a streaming project.
“The first day we did six or seven songs, then we went back the second day—hell, looking back, the label didn’t send a rep over, so we just kept recording until we had 13 or 14 classic rock songs cut,” Dunn says. They kept adding songs to the list, blending in several of Dunn’s country favorites.
Dunn surrounded himself with A-list musicians, and with so many top-shelf session players in a room, there were bound to be some musical connections to the songs.
“We were recording ‘I’m Not In Love,’ and my steel guitar player Gary Morse said, ‘My uncle was one of the two engineers that mixed that record.’” Dunn marvels. “That’s a classic process he had to go through to make that record happen. Those kinds of stories popped up on nearly every song we did.”
“The chemistry and excitement in the studio was unreal,” Dunn recalls of the recording process. “You don’t always get that. They would all come into the control room and be like, ‘I love that drum sound,’ and things like that. We all knew these songs and would each pick favorites. When you are in a room with seasoned pros like that and you are getting that feedback, it’s fun. These players, they are artists just as much as I am or anyone else.”
While Dunn and his fellow musicians had a blast in the studio, he says he shocked the label by turning in a massive 24-song project.
“I took it in to the label, played it and you could see them glaze over, like ‘What are we going to do with this?’ They said they were into it, but it’s harder to promote something like this.”
So instead of the typical album promotion, Dunn and his team have let fans in on the massive new project slowly, releasing a few tracks at a time over the past several months.
Dunn devotes ample time on Re-Dunn to covering songs that George Strait made into radio hits, including “Cowboy Rides Away,” and “A Showman’s Life.“ He also includes a cover of “Amarillo By Morning,” which songwriter Terry Stafford made into a regional Texas hit a decade before it became one of George Strait’s signature radio hits in 1983.
“When I was in college in Abilene, we covered that song when I would play in weekend pickup bands at VFW halls,” Dunn recalls. “But it was a hit even then, so when George cut it, it made sense. It’s a great cowboy song.”
He says several of the tracks bring to mind high school and college memories.
“I went to 13 schools in 12 years, so I was always moving,” he says. “The one constant that will trigger a memory of one of those places is a song, like dating someone my junior year in high school and ‘How Long’ was a hit. Every song on the record is like a memory. With [The Eagles’] ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling,’ I remember hearing it in college. We drove on Spring Break from Abilene to Casper, Wyoming and I swear we listened to that song a thousand times, over and over, just singing at the top of our lungs.”
At 66, Dunn’s voice is still one of country music’s most wondrous instruments—warm, engaging, soulful. But his awareness that time is also passing was one of reasons he was so keen to make the album.
Dunn has performed thousands of concerts over the course of his 30-year career as part of the duo Brooks & Dunn—and will add a few dozen more of those later this year, as the duo kicks up their first headlining tour in a decade.
“I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m having to drop songs down a step or a half step in the shows. I’m still able to push it, knock on wood,” he says.
“Singers are athletes and you have to keep it in shape,” he continues. “I remember sitting with Jon Bon Jovi one night at a dinner at this long table and Richie Sambora was down there at the other end with Kix [Brooks] and they were smoking cigars and sipping wine. Jon just shakes his head. I looked at him and said, ‘Man I wish I could do that. I can’t do that, I have to sing the next day.’ Jon laughed and said, ‘I have a saying. I should have a T-shirt that says, ‘…And The Singer Went Home.’
“I’m not a spring chicken anymore. There’s a shelf life to what I’ll be able to do. If I don’t get some of these songs sung, that could be a challenge vocally in a few years—sooner than later, I’m afraid. I might not have the opportunity to do it.”
Which is why he’s putting out Re-Dunn now, with plans to incorporate some of those cover songs into the set list during Brooks & Dunn’s upcoming outing.
“It’s a passion project,” he says. “There are some songs that, as a singer, make you go, ‘I really want to drive that car on that track. Selfishly, just turn me loose on the track.’”
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